High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke, heart disease, heart failure and kidney failure. Anybody can get hypertension, and the older you are, the more likely you are to develop it.
There's so much people can do to keep their blood pressure under
control. If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, it's important to work
aggressively to bring your blood pressure down.
First, talk with your doctor about what your blood pressure numbers are and what they mean. Most people should have a blood pressure reading of near 120/80. The top number is called the systolic pressure. That's a measurement of your pressure when your heart beats. The second number is called the diastolic pressure. It's the measure of your pressure when your heart is relaxed.
Lifestyle changes that help lower blood pressure
Exercise: Try to fit exercise into your daily routine. Talk with your doctor about good exercise choices for you, and then build up gradually. Walking and swimming are usually good ways to start, because they're easier on your joints. But other activities are good too, such as dancing, learning t'ai chi or qigong or anything else that interests you.
Quitting smoking: Smoking is bad for your blood
pressure. And it increases your risk of other diseases, as most people know.
If you feel like you'd like to quit, talk with your doctor. Research shows that
people who get help with smoking cessation from their healthcare providers have
a higher success rate. Read
more about smoking here.
Taking medicine your doctor prescribes: If
your doctor has prescribed blood pressure medication for you, take that seriously.
Stick with the drugs, and if for any reason you feel like you don't want to
keep taking your pills, be sure to talk with your doctor about it. Don't ever
stop medications on your own.
Limiting salt: Another part of blood pressure control is a food plan that limits sodium, or salt. There have been different opinions about whether eating too much salt actually causes high blood pressure, but many studies have shown that for people who already do have hypertension, decreasing salt intake is helpful.
How much salt should you have each day?
Here are some of the facts:
►The daily recommendation for sodium intake for the average person is no more than 2,400 milligrams.
►You really only need 500 milligrams to help your body carry out its basic functions.
►The average American consumes about 3,000 to 5,000 milligrams of salt each day.
►If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may have recommended keeping your daily salt intake under 1,500 milligrams.
Even if your doctor hasn't given you a precise number, there's
a good chance you're getting too much sodium in your daily diet.
What can you do to decrease the salt?
When it comes to the sodium in your diet, it doesn't all come
from the salt shaker. Most of the salt we get comes from processed foods, frozen
dinners, packaged mixes, instant or flavored rices, pizza and many salad dressings.
Here are examples of foods that have salt added to them during preparation:
- Canned soups and other canned foods, 850 milligrams per cup
- Cottage cheese, 459 milligrams per ˝ cup
- Deli meats, usually more than 300 milligrams per ounce
- Pretzels, 486 milligrams per ounce
- Sauerkraut, 780 milligrams per ˝ cup
- Soy sauce, 304 milligrams per teaspoon
- Dill pickle, one large, 1,731 milligrams
- American cheese, 304 milligrams per ounce
And don't forget the table salt. One teaspoon has 2,358 milligrams.
The daily salt recommendation for the average person is no more than 2,400 milligrams,
so pay attention to the amount of salt you're getting from the salt shaker alone.
Buy food in its natural state
If you want to reduce sodium, buy food that hasn't had much
done to it, such as
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Frozen vegetables with no salt added
- Poultry, fish and lean meat that isn't canned or salted
Cooking habits that can help
Besides cutting out snacks and other high-sodium foods, it's
helpful to make some changes in the way you cook:
- Don't add salt when you cook rice, pasta, oatmeal, and other foods. Sometimes
we add salt just because we always have. It might not even make much difference
in the taste of your food if you leave some of the salt out.
- If you do use canned food, such as tuna, rinse it off first to remove some of the sodium.
- Experiment with herbs and other types of spices to find flavors that satisfy you.
- Look for labels that say low- or reduced-sodium, or 'no salt added.'
- Read the labels on breakfast cereals to find the ones that are lower in sodium
Be sure to take a look at the recipe in this issue. It's a low-sodium vegetarian spaghetti sauce that uses herbs add flavor.
Get enough potassium
Getting enough potassium can also help you meet your goal of
lowering your blood pressure. Generally, if you';re eating plenty of fresh fruits
and vegetables and strictly limiting foods that are high in sodium, you're likely
to have a healthier sodium/potassium balance.
The Food and Drug Administration; The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure"; Hypertension, August 2004